Parents spend less than an hour each day with their kids – here's how to fix that this February half term

Sally Peck
Take a day - or maybe just an afternoon - to do something memorable and interesting with your children over February half-term. Try the Roman Baths, if you've never been before - © Joe Daniel Price

Right about now - the days and hours before half-term - if you’re anything like me, the guilt you feel about your work/family life balance is probably starting to tip in the direction of self-condemnation.

As your friends head off to ski for the week (AKA pop their children into the kids’ club), or jet towards winter sun (ditto; don’t feel too bad), and you curse your failure to book time away, you are likely counting the hours that will fall over the next 10 days and wondering what on Earth you’re going to do to entertain the young.

Like me, you’ve probably read the reassuring studies suggesting that modern parents - especially dads - spend more time with their children (shout out to the dishwasher and Deliveroo) than mothers and fathers of any era since the Sixties.

But that time, is it of the quality variety? Perhaps not, according to you.

Around half of parents believe they spend less than an hour each working day doing something worthwhile with their children. Which, when you think about it, isn’t hard to square: most families don’t eat together, so there’s an opportunity for meaningful discussion lost, and if anyone brought out the Monopoly board for a heart-to-heart about life skills last night, I’ll eat my keyboard.

The science behind why you should spend money on family holidays instead of toys

According to a new survey by Thomas Cook (which, of course, has a special interest in getting you to go away), three-quarters of parents reported feeling they lacked quality time with their children and almost as many (72 per cent) wished they had more time to talk to their children about their day.

In the average working week, parents reported spending fewer than 35 minutes reading with their children; fewer than 40 minutes sitting down around the table as a family; and less than 45 minutes playing together.

“Parents often have to work hard and, of the time we do spend together, parents and children spend much of it in their own private worlds, staring at screens,” said Dr Sam Wass, the family psychologist from Channel 4’s The Secret Life of 4 and 5 Year Olds.

“But in fact, there’s a huge amount of research suggesting that it’s the time spent together – talking, and doing shared activities as a family – that is most beneficial both for children and their parents.

“Many of the conversations that we do have with children are focused on giving them orders, and telling them what to do – things like chores and homework. This is important, of course, but it’s also important to engage in shared family activities where your child takes the lead.

“This happens much more often on holiday. It’s for this reason, I think, that many peoples’ warmest and most cherished memories, later in life, are of holidays they went on as children.”

Holidays may (temporarily) restore the desired balance in family life. If you’re still stuck for summer ideas, check out one of our favourite 50 for 2018 - and the 25 special trips that are best taken at other times of the year.

And what can you do to address this lack of time together right now?

Part of the trick is removing yourself from quotidien life, and the pressures of the routine - but you don’t have to do that for the entire week. Take a day, a long weekend, even half a day, to try one of these day trips around Britain:

The 50 best days out in Britain

Chatsworth offers architectural and natural beauty for parents - and an adventure playground for children

The 24 attractions your children must try before they’re 18

Watch a jousting spectacle at Warwick Castle

London’s best days out for less than a fiver

Bulbs are sprouting at St James's Park - come for the feeding of birds; stay for the fun playground Credit: Cui Yi/Ian.CuiYi

Or book a last-minute UK city break - see our favourite family activities in Bath, Edinburgh, London and York